Prepare. Stay awake. Be ready.

In this season of anticipation, join us in reflection and song. You will find a short audio program added each day of Advent. Only a few minutes long, each installment includes scripture, reflection, and a musical selection.

“O Radient Dawn, splendor of eternal light, Sun of justice, come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Liturgy of the Hours, Fifth O Antiphon

As we have followed the gospel of Matthew in this new liturgical year, I’m reminded of the passage in chapter 5 which says, “God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good alike.” Today, we hear of a dawn from on high that breaks upon us: to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. A light that shines on all sides, good and bad. May we let go of those things that block light, casting shadows of despair, gloom, doubt, and death, for in Christ’s light, the one true light, the light that shines on all sides to guide our feet into the way of peace, there are no more shadows, no more death. All is light. All is life. Just wait for tomorrow.

Music Selections: Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (arr Ward, G-6410), Advent Lullaby (Bell, G-5427)

“O King of all Nations and keystone of the church, come and save us who you formed from the dust.” Liturgy of the Hours, Sixth O Antiphon

Now just two days from Christmas, there is simply no avoiding it: we are fully immersed in holiday spirit. Remember, too, the many people for whom this time is filled with difficult decisions, and painful reminders. Many parents have to decide who get the children for Christmas. Some who are grieving wonder if the joy-filled church buildings might simply be too much this year. Remember that this is a God of all nations, of all peoples, who breathes life into the dust and makes beautiful things beyond our wildest dreaming. 

Music Selections: Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (arr. Ward, G-6410), In the Bleak Midwinter (Holst, text by Christina Rossetti, adapt. Rory Cooney, G-8749)

“The Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” Matthew 1

In our first reading, Ahaz is invited by the Lord to ask for a sign, and Ahaz says, “no.” Joseph, on the other hand, receives a sign from God via a dream and has the good sense to say, “yes.” Can we consider all of the signs that God gives us that we choose to ignore? Can’t we be more like Joseph and Mary, who said, “yes”? 

Music Selection: Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (arr. Ward, G-6410), Behold a Virgin Bearing Him (McDonagh, G-6029)

“O Emmanuel, our King and giver of law. Come to save us Lord our God.” Liturgy of the Hours, Fifth O Antiphon

Many icons of the visitation depict Mary and Elizabeth in warm embrace, their pregnant bellies squeezed close together allowing that most precious, already-and-not-yet life to meet one another. Our first reading today speaks of an even deeper intimacy that God desires. How close are we willing to allow God to abide in our very beings?

Music Selections: Winchester New from Guitar Prayer (arr. Fisher, CD-637),  In Zion (arr. Bell, G-4541)

“O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom. Come and free the prisoners of darkness.” Liturgy of the Hours, Fourth O Antiphon

In a litany of intercessions it is not uncommon to pray for the release of prisoners—but have you thought about what that really means? Consider this stunning perspective of Lill Watson, an aboriginal activist: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.” In what ways can we be united with all captives of darkness? How might our disconnection be a further imprisonment?

Music Selections: Winchester New from Guitar Prayer (arr. Fischer, CD-637), Freedom is Coming (arr. Leck, WW1174)

“O root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all His people. Come to save us without delay.” Liturgy of the hours, Third O Antiphon

Today’s first reading and Gospel both tell stories of couples who had longed for children. After long months and years of waiting, what once seemed impossible, through God, finally came to be. Sometimes the signs of God’s love seem to be delayed in their coming. Take comfort in your waiting, knowing that sometimes the tardy fruit makes a fuller wine.

Music Selections: Winchester New from Guitar Prayer (arr. Fisher, CD-637), My Soul in Stillness Waits (Haugen, G-2652)

“O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the law to Moses on Sinai. Come to rescue us with your mighty power.” Liturgy of the Hours, Second O Antiphon

Our reading form Jeremiah recounts a pattern by the leader of the house of Israel: He delivered them out of Egypt’s land….He delivered them from the land of the north… He delivered them from the lands from which they were banished. Today, we asked to be rescued with that same mighty power. From what do you need to be rescued?

Music Selections: Winchester New from Guitar Prayer (arr. Fisher, CD-637), Behold, Our God Will Come (Holland, G-9292)

“O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love. Come to teach us the path of knowledge.” Liturgy of the Hours, First O Antiphon 

No matter what time of year, whether those first frosty days of winter, or the melting scorch of late July, hearing that simple but iconic melody (hum veni Emmanuel) can transport us to the memories of Advent longing and expectation of years past. The power of melody, before a single word is spoken. Just as this melody transports us to Advent, may the Incarnation transport us to greater realization that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God.

Music Selections: Winchester New from Guitar Prayer (arr. Fisher, CD-637), O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (arr. Kara Funke, G-8298)

“I see him, though not now. I behold him, though not near. A star shall advance from Jacob and a staff shall rise from Israel.” Numbers 24

Is it fair to say that one of the memories many of us will never forget is the first time truly seeing the stars, apart from city lights? Once you glimpse that light, you can’t not see it, though any subsequent viewing under the city street lights will pale in comparison. Similarly, having encountered Christ, the Morning Star, how can we not keep that light which guides in truth and teaches us, from birth until we cross that beautiful river.

Music Selections: Winchester New from Guitar Prayer (arr. Fisher, CD-637), Bright Morning Stars (Arr. Alice Parker, adapt. Susan LaBarr, WW1718)

“Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion’s singing, crowned with everlasting joy.” Isaiah 35
We’ve come to accept that a redeemed humanity rejoices and sings at the wonders that God has done. We forget the fact that the very earth itself laughs and dances as the desert and parched lands exult and bloom. The Christ who we long for will come to redeem all of creation (of course dogs go to heaven!), and in a few short days we’ll remind ourselves when we give voice to that truth that both “heaven and nature sing” as the pulse of the whole world prepares a place for him.

Music Selections: Winchester New from Guitar Prayer (arr. Fisher, CD-637),  Ye Shall Go Out With Joy (Duncan, G-9771)

“In those days, like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah, whose words were like a flaming furnace.” Sirach 48

Yesterday’s precious image of Santa Lucía wearing a crown with candles gives way to this heavenly conflagration of Elijah speeding through the heavens on a chariot of flames. May we carry the tiny flames of the Advent wreath in our hearts the rest of the season and all the way to Easter, when like those travelers to Emmaus, we will feel our hearts burning within us. 

Music Selections: Emmanuel from Colours 2 (de Silva, G9737), Light a Candle (True, G-7836)

“Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.” Psalm 1

Just as yesterday’s reading reminded us that the pain is greatest before the child is born, so too, as we celebrate the feast of St. Lucy, whose very name means “light,” we recall that the night is darkest before the morning. As we concern ourselves with the preparations for Christmas, worrying if the right gift has been bought, who can sit next to who at the dinner table, or any other real or imagined wounds of the holiday season, let us remember that our joy will be complete when we welcome Christ into our hearts, homes, and world.

Music Selections: Emmanuel from Colours, 2 (de Silva, G9737), The Day of the Lord Is at Hand (arr. Marilyn Biery, G-8731)

“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Revelation 11

On this feast day of La Virgen de Guadalupe, this passage from Revelations continues with the woman in labor, a seven-headed dragon ready to devour her child. Rather than being arrested by this apocalyptic science fiction story, imagine the glory of the cosmos, as famous poet Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “and by a comet the sky is torn; yet Love still takes the risk of birth.”

Music Selections: Emmanuel from Colours 2 (de Silva, G-9737), Las Mañanitas (arr. Pena, CD 322)

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11

If you’ve come across this Advent calendar, perhaps there’s a good chance that you are a choir director. Sometimes, more than shaping voices, you are responsible for shaping individuals as they bring their burdens and concerns and struggles. In these final rehearsals before Christmas, may you have the strength to bear the burdens of your ministry as you lead your choir and congregation to the sweet encounter that is Christ.

Music Selections: Emmanuel from Colours 2 (de Silva, G-9737), Come To Me, O Weary Traveler (arr. Tate, text: Dunstan, G-9135)

”Comfort, give comfort to my people says your God.” Isaiah 40

No one doubts the sincerity of the charity, generosity, and comfort extended in the holiday season, whether it be assisting at community Thanksgiving dinners, donating on Giving Tuesday, or dropping a coin in a red kettle. And yet even these moments of kindness are surprised by the true comfort of knowing that each of us is created in the image and likeness of the God whose coming is certain, the God who is already, and not-yet.

Music Selections: Emmanuel from Colours 2 (de Silva, G-9737), Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People (Bourgeois, Goudimel, arr. Alonso, G-9461)

“The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living.” Genesis 3

We can trace the origin of Eve’s name back to the Hebrew word “Chava,” which means life. It’s why we chose to name my daughter “Ava,”—since she escaped a brush with death in the womb, her whole being echoed that great word of praise—life. Today as we celebrate the beginning of life for the Mother of God, I can’t help but feel called to embrace Mary’s commitment to life in midst of impossible circumstances, and her incredible ability to continue to say “yes,” to God, turning the whole world upside down as she turns “Eva” into “Ave.”

Music Selections: Emmanuel from Colours 2 (de Silva, G9737), Ave Maria (Kantor, G-3958)

“A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Matthew 3

My alma mater, Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, features a magnificent statue of St. John the Baptist with a greatly exaggerated throat and larynx. As John the Baptist returns this weekend and speaks with prophetic voice that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, where are you this Advent season? Do you need first need to be a prophetic voice or to hear the call to repentance and reconciliation?

Music Selections: Emmanuel from Colours 2 (de Silva, G-9737), Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord (Moore, G-2880)

“The light of the moon will be like that of the sun and the light of the sun will be seven times greater like the light of seven days.” Isaiah 30

Later this week we’ll be treated to a full moon. Let us not forget, that that face in the moon itself does not give off light—it simply reflects the light of the sun. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us that Christ, who plays in ten thousand places, is reflected through the features of our faces. Together we walk, children basking in radiance.

Music Selections: Advent Suite from Seasons of Grace, vol. 2 (Tate, G-6919), I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light (Thomerson, arr. Proulx,  G-8758)

“On that day, the deaf shall hear the words of a book. And out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 29

In today’s first reading we hear that the deaf shall hear, the blind shall see, the lowly shall find joy, the poor rejoice, and the tyrant will be no more. We know we will hear this string of impossibilities echoed again in the words of a young Jewish girl who finds herself in the midst of her own paradox. This is a God who does impossible things, for nothing is impossible for God. The whole world is about to turn.

Music Selections: Advent Suite from Seasons of Grace, vol. 2 (Tate, G-6919), Canticle of the Turning (Cooney, G-3407) 

“Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith.” Isaiah 26

Today’s first reading and Gospel present the image of the Lord as Rock. What defines strength, majesty, and power? A rock? A strong city? A fortress? Yes—but perhaps the One who comes to save us takes on the form of true vulnerability—a tiny babe, a refugee, an innocent. Look up. Pay attention. Lift up your heads.

Music Selections: Advent Suite from Seasons of Grace, vol. 2 (Tate, G-6919), Lift Up Your Heads (Bell, G-5494)

“On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples. The web that is woven over all nations. He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” Isaiah 25

Today’s first reading tells us that God will prepare a feast of rich foods and choice wines—juicy rich foods and pure choice wines. What are you hungry for? Do you hunger for justice? Do you hunger for righteousness? How do you feed the hunger of others? Those who hunger for peace? For forgiveness? For love?

Music Selections: Advent Suite from Seasons of Grace, vol. 2 (Tate, G-6919), New Heaven and Earth (Cotter, G-9345)

“There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the water covers the sea.” Isaiah 11

Perhaps because I wanted a few more days of doom and gloom and hints of the end of the world, this beautiful message from Isaiah seems a little out of place this first week of Advent. But perhaps that’s the lesson—sometimes the God of Surprises brings unexpected moments of joy in the midst of hardship, pain, and fear.

Music Selections: Advent Suite from Seasons of Grace, vol. 2 (Tate, G-6919), Lo, How A Rose Ere Blooming, (Sandstrom, WSK120)

“Brothers and Sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Romans 13

Those of us in the northern hemisphere become keenly aware this time of year that the night comes quicker, and darkness will soon envelop us. How blessed we are in this Advent season to know that the Christ-light will overcome the darkness! Stay awake. Be ready.

Music Selections: Advent Suite from Seasons of Grace, vol. 2 (Tate, G-6919), Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning (Gray, WW1633)

“I rejoiced when I heard them say, let us go to the house of the Lord” Psalm 122

Some clever planning by the framers of the lectionary provide an opportunity for reflection today: The psalm for the last Sunday of Year C, the Solemnity of Christ the King, is the same psalm for the first Sunday of Year A, the first Sunday of Advent. The wonderful symbolism of this connection reminds us that our very lives on earth are a pilgrimage, ordered towards the house of the Lord.

Music Selections: Advent Suite from Seasons of Grace, vol. 2 (Tate, G-6919), I Rejoiced When I Heard Them Say (Proulx, G-3780)